Upper house

The parliamentary year is over. How has the McGowan government used its total control?

When Labor took full control of the WA parliament in a landmark election this year, warnings from the opposition did not bode well.

It would be “dangerous for the future of our state,” said former opposition leader Zak Kirkup.

So how did the first year of an extraordinary parliament inundated with Labor MPs go?

It’s no surprise that the McGowan government has used its numbers in both houses to advance its legislative agenda.

No mandate for electoral reform

In his last sitting week of the parliamentary year, the Prime Minister proudly listed the laws his government had passed this year.

The first one he mentioned was the one that the state government did not have a mandate to introduce.

Before the electoral changes, half of all seats in WA’s upper house were allocated to the 25 percent of West Australians who live outside of Perth.(PAA: Richard Wainwright)

Although Mr McGowan has repeatedly said electoral reform was ‘not on the agenda’ throughout the state’s election campaign, Labor wasted no time in realizing the long-held dream of the party.

“I am very happy to see that we have passed legislation to ensure that the Legislative Council of Western Australia is democratic for the first time in 130 years,” McGowan told parliament.

“Governments… are elected to make decisions”

A reform for which the government had both a mandate and broad support was the best protection of indigenous heritage.

“After three decades of unsuccessful attempts, we will implement our new Indigenous Cultural Heritage Act to ensure that Indigenous heritage is enhanced and at the forefront of consideration when developing projects,” McGowan told parliament. .

Mark McGowan speaks in parliament with outstretched hands.
The government of Mark McGowan has used their numbers to advance their legislative agenda.(ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

But the opposition argued that the new indigenous heritage laws were rushed through – despite concerns from indigenous leaders that it did not go far enough to prevent another Juukan gorge.

Labor introduced the bill, which included more than 100 changes to the bill, in its penultimate week of sitting.

He said the bill was urgent and guaranteed the upper house would have more time to pass it this year.

The move, the opposition argued, was an example of the government’s misuse of its numbers.

“How can the Prime Minister justify the introduction of a bill of 353 articles and with more than 100 modifications compared to the project, when it was made public only a few hours earlier?” National MP Vince Catania asked Mr. McGowan in parliament.

Man standing in front of Carnarvon One Mile Pier
National MP Vince Catania argued that the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Law was being rushed through Parliament.(ABC Pilbara: Laura Birch)

The Prime Minister argued that this was urgent reform and a problem that previous governments had not addressed.

“My point is that governments are elected to act, they are elected to make decisions and they are elected to make things better, and that is what this legislation will do,” said McGowan.

In the first year of her second term, the McGowan government also passed ticket scalping legislation, safe access zones for women around abortion clinics, and payment security laws for women. subcontractors.

All of this happened amid a pandemic – including taking the extraordinary step of making vaccination mandatory for 75% of the state’s workforce.

A seating chart headache and other first world issues

Question Time in the Western Australian Legislature is not what it used to be.

Nowadays, it’s somewhat reminiscent of a schoolyard in which 53 children surrounded a group of six of their peers for a game of dodge ball.

An aerial view of WA Parliament House at sunset.
Labor is in the majority in both houses of parliament.(ABC News)

On the last sitting day in this year’s Legislature, WA Premier Mark McGowan summed up how the schoolyard – filled with Labor MPs – tended to function.

“This [the Labor majority] created some first world problems for me, ”he teased.

“It was problematic to establish the seating plan for you [opposition].

“I obviously upset some of our [Labor] MPs, because sometimes on the run, we will shout that, “those opposite are useless” or “those opposite are hopeless”, and we all look at our own MPs! “

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A look back at the historic 2021 WA election campaign.

All kidding aside, strong opposition is fundamental to a strong government.

As Opposition Leader Mia Davies pointed out in parliament this week, the six non-government lower house MPs have turned up every week to ask questions on behalf of their communities.

“We have tried to provide balance and control for a government which has enormous power,” she told parliament.

“… We saw this government being opportunistic about its priorities and ensuring that it could implement its very important political priorities, including the electoral reform law.

Mia Davies addresses reporters outside Parliament
Mia Davies says opposition MPs have worked hard to ensure balance and control in Parliament.(ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

The promised legislative reform regarding the sharing of retirement pensions for de facto couples was an example, Davies argued, of law reform that should have taken priority over electoral reform – something that will not affect anyone until 2025.

“They could have been harder with their numbers”

Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council, Liberal MP Steve Thomas, has been less scathing about Parliament’s first year of full control over Labor.

“The weight of the numbers, at the end of the day, just crushes us,” Thomas said.

“But they could have gone further with their numbers.”

Mr Thomas referred to an Upper House committee, which Labor allowed to be chaired by a Liberal and to have a non-government majority, as an example.

Man with graying hair and black suit speaks at press conference
Steve Thomas says the opposition is being crushed by the “sheer weight” of government numbers.(ABC News: James Carmody)

“We got some compromise, but it all depends on the whim of the government,” he said.

“The upper house has retained its role of review and accountability.

“Despite the numbers, we continue to scrutinize.”

The upper house will sit another three weeks to do just that – debate and consider the final bills for this year – which, of course, will inevitably pass.


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